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Rena's Memories

Part 15 (The Nazis Retreat)

The Nazis Retreat

In 1943 the Germans were retreating. By September ’43 the Russians were already on the other side of Dnieper and were approaching Kiev. Having no where else to go, we decided to dig in and stay. 


Up till then, we expected the front line to pass over us, so we were burying all sorts of important things — like clothes and important belongings and food. This was in case our apartment was destroyed by fire. People who did this in 1941 were able to save their goods from destruction.

Each apartment had an assigned plot with a shed where we kept wood and other things. The shed was was under lock and key and this is where we buried things. Just as I was digging a new hole there, my mother called to me. We had no choice but to leave. The whole population was ordered to evacuate the city within three days. Kiev was strategically located on a hill overlooking the plane on the opposite side of the river. The Germans were going to defend Kiev and didn’t want anyone shooting at their backs.

We did not know what to do or where to go. Whoever had friends or relatives in the countryside started out immediately. As we were trying to check with close friends as to what they were planning to do, my father decided to join a group from Kiev University that had an invitation to Prague. This group had permission to use one freight car of a train headed to Lvov (in Galicia, part of Poland before the war, Soviet Union after). The situation was chaotic. My parents decide to join the group.

At this moment I recalled a dream that I had two years previously (my mother remembered me telling her about this dream). In the dream my parents and I were leaving Kiev forever. We could not find my Uncle Vasya and I was crying for him. I was in tears and I didn’t want to leave Kiev.

My father’s colleagues had contacts with Czech Scholars at Karlova University in Prague. And the Czechs were inviting the colleagues to be part of the University in Prague. This appeared to be a “pie-in-the sky” option, but my father insisted he did not want to be part of the Soviet Union. He thought that we might be able to continue to the US and join his brother there. I had to memorize Uncle Leonya's address on Maiden Lane, N.Y.C. His American name was Mark Terbey.


My mother, on the other hand, felt that regardless of the political climate, there is nothing like your homeland. Her family was in Leningrad and Moscow and she loved them dearly.

There’s always people who help other people. My father’s specialty was such that he was not really invited, but there were a few of us that made believe that we were part of the group. Still, it was a very, very difficult decision whether we should go. First my mother said no and I said I was going to run away. I didn’t want to leave my own country. Then, after reconsideration, I gave in. Maybe because once we left the city, we had no place to go.

Other people had relatives in the countryside or had somewhere to go, and my father kept saying, well I have my brother in America. Maybe if we get out we will eventually get there. And this is what persuaded mother and me.

We were very lucky we didn’t stay. The people who stayed in the suburbs — many of them suffered tremendously. That’s because Stalin said you should have killed yourselves instead of being under Nazi occupation, and so I’ll kill you. And that’s exactly what happened. Everyone who survived and stayed around Kiev - all the intellectuals — they were sent to Siberia. So it was lucky that we left. My father was already on the blacklist because he was Ukrainian and he was educated.

My mother’s memories about the invitation to Prague are so firm that there was probably some discussion of evacuating to Prague and/or to the US before the family was forced to leave Kiev. However, when I researched other members of the Kiev group I found that their original destination was Lvov and they only received invitations to Prague later on (when the Soviet army was approaching Lvov). I will show maps of the journey further along.

Prague had a large population of Ukrainian expatriates. They had their own schools (including the Free Ukrainian University), museums, and organizations. There was also a Russian expatriate community

Fear of Reprisals / Volksdeutsche

Fear of Reprisals / Volksdeutsche

There was one thing I didn’t mention about life in Kiev during the occupation – the people called “Volksdeutsche” (There is more about this in the section “Nazi in Ukraine”.) Those who could claim any German heritage were given some special privileges, but now they were running scared. Of course there were rumors that the Soviets punished anyone that lived under the Nazis. They were always worried about western “infection”.

Ukrainians had good reason to fear Soviet punishment. Here is a small excerpt from Stalin’s Order #0078/42, 22 June 1944, Moscow


I order:

1. To send all Ukrainians, living under the rule of the German occupiers, to distant edges of the USSR.

2. The eviction shall be undertaken:

а) primarily of Ukrainians, who have worked for and served the Germans;

b) secondly to send the rest of Ukrainians, who are familiar with the life during the German occupation;

c) to begin the eviction after harvesting, when crops are delivered to the State to satisfy the needs of the Red Army;

d) evictions shall be carried out only at night, and suddenly, to prevent escaping, and prevent the members of the family of those who serve in the Red Army to know it.


The order was impractical and never implemented. It woud have meant relocating 40 million Ukrainians, many who had important functions (like producing food)! Certainly Ukrainians like Rena’s father who worked for the Germans (in a museum) would have been sent away or simply executed

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